The Difference Between a Rug and a Carpet

Essential info for your interior design dictionary.

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Photo: Laurey W. Glenn; Styling: Liz Strong

Floor coverings—they're always down there, but how much do you really know about the fabrics you step on every day? One easy distinction that everyone should know is between a rug and a carpet. The two terms are often used interchangeably, but when shopping, dressing a room, and laying down fabric on the floor, it's important to know the difference.

According to Merriam-Webster, a rug is "a piece of thick heavy fabric that usually has a nap or pile and is used as a floor covering," while a carpet is defined as "a heavy often tufted fabric used as a floor covering" and "a surface or layer resembling or suggesting a carpet." Synonyms? Sure.

According to Encyclopedia Britannica, both 'rug' and 'carpet' are used to indicate

"any decorative textile normally made of a thick material and now usually intended as a floor covering. [...] Both in Great Britain and in the United States the word rug is often used for a partial floor covering as distinguished from carpet, which frequently is tacked down to the floor and usually covers it wall-to-wall. In reference to handmade carpets, however, the names rug and carpet are used interchangeably."

Colloquially, at least in the South, the difference between a rug and a carpet seems to be movability. What we call carpet is a floor covering that stretches from wall to wall and is affixed to the floor. Rugs, on the other hand, tend to be smaller than the square footage of the room (by a lot or a little) and are not affixed to the floor. They can be rolled up and moved from place to place.

For more information about rugs and carpets, read about why Joanna Gaines starts with an area rug when designing a room and learn some of our best tips for placing furniture on area rugs. For rug inspiration and to find a pattern that works for your space, read about these outdoor rugs that will refresh your patio or porch. Then check out some of the Southern Living Collection rugs on offer that are available now at Dillard's.

WATCH: These Affordable Machine-Washable Area Rugs Are Total Game Changers

In your home, do you have rugs, carpets, or both? What's your favorite floor covering for a room? What other interior design questions do you have about your home?

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